ROMNEY’S DISMISSAL OF WOMEN POETS

In this extract from Book Two of the poem, Romney reveals his view of women’s abilities and dismisses the idea that a woman can ever be a successful poet.

VIEW OF MANCHESTER 1870

A view of the factories of Manchester. Date: circa 1870 Source: Unattributed illustration.

You play beside a death-bed like a child,
Yet measure to yourself a prophet’s place
To teach the living. None of all these things,
Can women understand. You generalise
Oh, nothing, – not even grief! Your quick-breathed hearts,
So sympathetic to the personal pang,
Close on each separate knife-stroke, yielding up
A whole life at each wound, incapable
Of deepening, widening a large lap of life
To hold the world-full woe. The human race
To you means, such a child, or such a man,
You saw one morning waiting in the cold,
Beside that gate, perhaps. You gather up
A few such cases, and when strong sometimes
Will write of factories and of slaves, as if
Your father were a negro, and your son
A spinner in the mills. All’s yours and you,
All, coloured with your blood, or otherwise
Just nothing to you. Why, I call you hard
To general suffering. Here’s the world half blind
With intellectual light, half brutalised
With civilisation, having caught the plague
In silks from Tarsus, shrieking east and west
Along a thousand railroads, mad with pain
And sin too! . . does one woman of you all
(You who weep easily) grow pale to see
This tiger shake his cage? – does one of you
Stand still from dancing, stop from stringing pearls,
And pine and die because of the great sum
Of universal anguish? – Show me a tear
Wet as Cordelia’s, in eyes bright as yours,
Because the world is mad. You cannot count,
That you should weep for this account, not you!
You weep for what you know. A red-haired child
Sick in a fever, if you touch him once,
Though but so little as with a finger-tip,
Will set you weeping; but a million sick . .
You could as soon weep for the rule of three
Or compound fractions. Therefore, this same world
Uncomprehended by you, must remain
Uninfluenced by you. – Women as you are,
Mere women, personal and passionate,
You give us doating mothers, and perfect wives,
Sublime Madonnas, and enduring saints!
We get no Christ from you, – and verily
We shall not get a poet, in my mind.

(Aurora Leigh, Book Two, ll.180-225)

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